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13 May 2020

An integrated social care model could protect care homes in future pandemics

The spread of COVID-19 in care homes could have been reduced if there was an integrated social care model in the UK, say academics from the Institute of Gerontology.

Dependent elderly woman with dementia

Speaking in the latest WORLD: we got this podcast episode, Professor Karen Glaser, Professor Mauricio Avendano Pabon and Dr Ludovico Carrino from the Institute of Gerontology argue that existing social care policy has left care homes unprepared in the face of the pandemic.

“We know that COVID-19 affects older people disproportionately and we know the majority of deaths from COVID-19 are in older people,” says Dr Carrino.

This is especially the case for people that live in care homes, where the majority of residents are aged over 85 years and are the most medically vulnerable.

Certain protocols – social distancing measures, extensive and earlier testing – might be ways to control the disease within care homes, argues Professor Glaser.

However, care homes, and the role of care itself, have not be structured to cater for this.

“There is huge variation in the level to which it is possible for [care homes] to carry out some of the recommendations such as the need for isolation in separate rooms or having a quarantine area. This is not always possible,” says Professor Avendano Pabon.

This is due in part to the close proximity of residents to one another, to the movement of workers and visitors, and to the fact that workers may work across multiple care homes.

“The availability of personal protective equipment for staff was also not something many nursing homes were prepared for.”

The academics argue that an integrated social care system could see a reduction in the spread of disease, although more research is needed to establish this.

“Here in the UK, we have a separation between health care and social care. We’re talking about bringing health and social care under one umbrella,” suggests Dr Carrino.

“Where the individual’s needs are assessed, and a comprehensive care plan is developed around the needs of the individual.”

This type of care policy in other Western countries has already proven to be especially important for people with multiple chronic conditions. It would also allow more people to receive care at home, alleviating the pressure on the current care system.

“This policy would suggest a reduction in diseases like COVID-19 because people would [more likely stay at home and would] less likely end up in A&E,” adds Professor Glaser.

The academics also highlighted the importance of improving working conditions for care workers, and improving access to personal protective equipment.

Listening to more about integrated social care and the role of social care in a pandemic on the latest WORLD: we got this podcast.

In this story

Karen Glaser

Professor of Gerontology

Professor Mauricio Avendano Pabon

Visiting Professor of Public Policy & Global Health

Dr Ludovico Carrino

Research Fellow